When watching movies, I know I’ve found a new personal favourite when I’m grinning from ear to ear as the credits roll. It’s a recognition of the craft – the art – that went into what I’ve just witnessed. It’s the realisation of how slickly I’ve been played as an audience member. And the jaw-stretching grin is all the more sweeter if my expectations were pretty high beforehand.
In the last five years, that credit-roll grin has been hurting my face after just an hour – sometimes only half that – of television drama. From the oh-my-gods-I’m-exhausted elation/relief of The Shield and Bodies, to the what-the-heck-happens-next-gods-dammit addiction of The Wire and Sports Night – and let’s not forget the hot-damn!-that-was-good enjoyment from The Closer, The West Wing and the occasional Burn Notice episode.
So what is it about Mad Men that makes me griiin and
whine cry out Finished already? each week?
Nothing happens. It’s about relationships – between a bunch of distinctly unlikeable
rogues bastards in an era where women were little more than chattels, blacks were invisible, and every damned one of the characters smokes.
It’s those very things that I savour about Mad Men.
Nothing much may happen in an ep but we’re learning more and more about Don and Peggy and company – and what we learn not so much answers questions about them but deepens what we know about their characters. Where most other television dramas would portray the dick-swinging camaraderie with a post-Top Gun homoeroticism or symbolic gunfights and car-chases, the male relationships in Mad Men are so finely detailed that even The Goddess is forced to ask me What was that all about? And as for the show’s portrayal of the time and place: I salute creator Matthew Weiner‘s unflinching lack of gloss or veneer – ‘S how it was, baby.
In portraying a period of history as unflatteringly as one might cover current events, Weiner’s genius is in showing us that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Where the choice on the box is usually between procedural (or procedural with a twist) and soap (or soap with a twist), it’s great to have a drama that – just like its characters toil at in advertising – gives more of the same, but different.